ABC - World News

Anatoliy Sizov/iStockBy BRITT CLENNETT and KARSON YIU, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Ties between the world’s two superpowers are on increasingly delicate ground, following President Donald Trump’s move to prohibit US residents from doing business with the Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok and messaging app WeChat.

The executive orders, announced Thursday and effective in 45 days, comes after the Trump administration made it clear it wanted to clamp down on “untrusted” Chinese apps.

Much of the focus has been on the move against TikTok, but it is the potential ban on WeChat that could have the greater impact and greater potential fallout for the citizens of both countries.

While TikTok was built for an international market that is walled off from China, WeChat is part and parcel to how daily life in China operates. This is central to why this latest move carries so much weight and lays the foundation for another major escalation between Washington and Beijing.

China hasn’t taken the move lightly, warning that the United States would have to “bear the consequences” of its own “bitter fruit.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, “The U.S. is using national security as an excuse and using state power to oppress non-American businesses. That’s just a hegemonic practice.”

TikTok, owned by ByteDance, says it was “shocked” by the ban, which “sets a dangerous precedent for the concept of free expression and open markets.” The company added that it would "pursue all remedies available," giving rise to speculation that it may take legal action.

Lately, Trump has been pushing for TikTok to be sold to an American company.

The WeChat ban comes as even more of a surprise than the one facing TikTok.

The billion-user app is an important avenue of communication for business and family links between the US and China. In fact, it’s hard to overstate how essential WeChat is for doing business in China. American firms operating there, including McDonalds, KFC and Walmart, all rely on WeChat monetary transactions.

The potential negatives can be severe. For example, if Apple is banned from having Tencent, which owns WeChat, in its App store, Chinese consumers who rely on WeChat to conduct their daily lives would have no reason to stick with an iPhone.

An informal poll posted on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging website, on Friday asked users if in the event of a WeChat ban on the iPhone, whether they would uninstall the app or switch phones. The overwhelming response was to ditch the iPhone.

The iPhone’s popularity China is already ceding to Huawei.

Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Dean said a White House official told him late Thursday that the ban will not extend to Tencent, one of the world’s biggest internet firms.

Tencent is also a leading gaming company, owning a 40 percent stake in Epic Games, which is behind the wildly popular game Fortnite.

Tencent shares took a tumble of more than 5 percent off the back of the news.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. has sanctioned Hong Kong's chief executive, its police commissioner, mainland China's top official for the territory and other senior leaders for "undermining Hong Kong's autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly," the U.S. Treasury announced Friday.

Like the administration's other sanctions, these are mainly symbolic, as the 11 officials designated Friday have few U.S. assets to sanction. But the move seems designed to provoke Beijing again amid a cycle of retaliation and climbing tensions between the two countries.

In recent weeks, the Trump administration has escalated pressure on China by moving to ban social media apps TikTok and WeChat, announcing a high-level delegation and new arms sales to Taiwan, ending Hong Kong's special economic status and sanctioning a powerful paramilitary group and senior officials in Xinjiang, the western province where the Chinese government has conducted a mass surveillance and detention campaign against Muslim ethnic minorities.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is the most well-known name on the list Friday. As Beijing's hand-picked leader, Lam has overseen a crackdown on democratic protesters and the implementation of a new national security law imposed by China's National People's Congress.

Lam has said she would "just laugh it off" if the U.S. sanctioned her, telling reporters last month, "I do not have any assets in the United States nor do I long for moving to the United States."

Regardless of their limited economic impact, the sanctions are likely to incense the Chinese government -- especially those on Xia Baolong and Zhang Xiaoming, the director and deputy director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs office in Beijing, and Luo Huining, the head of China's liaison office to Hong Kong who is a close ally of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

President Donald Trump signed into law last month the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which authorized these sanctions for any officials involved in implementing China's national security law for Hong Kong.

The Treasury Department also said some officials, like Police Commissioner Chris Tang and former commissioner Stephen Lo, are being sanctioned for the crackdown on protesters in 2019, who marched in the millions against a similar national security law proposed by Hong Kong's government.

After protests seemed to defeat that bill, which allowed for extradition from the territory to mainland China, the Chinese government imposed a more sweeping version on June 30, criminalizing subversion, secession, terrorism and "collusion with foreign or external forces" -- broad categories that include any anti-government protests and even apply to foreigners outside the territory.

China has defended the controversial law as critical for halting any foreign interference in Hong Kong, while the U.S. sees it as a violation of the treaty China signed with the United Kingdom to take control of the territory but grant it a degree of autonomy for 50 years.

Citing the new law's implementation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared in May that Hong Kong was no longer autonomous from mainland China and did not warrant special treatment under U.S. law, including trade, tax and export control exemptions.

"The Chinese Communist Party has made clear that Hong Kong will never again enjoy the high degree of autonomy that Beijing itself promised to the Hong Kong people and the United Kingdom for 50 years. President Trump has made clear that the United States will therefore treat Hong Kong as 'one country, one system' and take action against individuals who have crushed the Hong Kong people's freedoms," Pompeo said in a statement Friday.

With Beijing's tighter control and without U.S. special status, analysts have declared the "death of Hong Kong."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


FILE photo - Kristian1108/iStockBy SAMARA LYNN, ABC News

(CALICUT, India) -- An Air India Express aircraft flying from Dubai, UAE, crashed at its destination of Calicut, India, with at least 191 people onboard. The extent of casualties was not immediately known.

The Air India passenger jet appears to have skidded on landing and is now in several pieces. It was raining at the time of the crash, and the plane did not catch fire, according to reports.

NDVT, an India television station, is showing images of the plane apparently overshooting the runway. Officials are reporting on NDTV that all passengers have been evacuated and taken to the hospital, some with severe injuries.

An Air India Express spokesperson confirmed that the passengers had been taken to the hospital. According to the company, 174 passengers, 10 infants, two pilots and four cabin crew members were on board at the time.

"As per the initial reports rescue operations are on and passengers are being taken to hospital for medical care," the company said in a statement. "We will soon share the update in this regard."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Chinnapong/iStockBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Prince Harry delivered strong words for social media companies and those that advertise on them in a new op-ed in which he calls for the social media world to reform.

"We’ve always believed that individuals and communities thrive when the frameworks around them are built from compassion, trust, and wellbeing," Harry wrote in Fast Company, referring to himself and his wife Meghan. "Sadly, this belief is at odds with much of what is being experienced by people on social media."

"We have an opportunity to do better and remake the digital world," Harry wrote in the technology magazine. "This remodeling must include industry leaders from all areas drawing a line in the sand against unacceptable online practices."

Harry revealed in the op-ed that last month he and Meghan started calling business leaders, marketing officers and heads of major corporations to ask them to reconsider their roles in funding social media platforms that he says have "contributed to, stoked, and created the conditions for a crisis of hate, a crisis of health, and a crisis of truth.”

Harry said he and Meghan believe the "architecture of our online community" needs to be remodeled, putting "compassion," "truth" and "inclusiveness" ahead of "hate," "misinformation" and "injustice and fearmongering."

"This remodeling must include industry leaders from all areas drawing a line in the sand against unacceptable online practices as well as being active participants in the process of establishing new standards for our online world," he wrote. "Companies that purchase online ads must also recognise that our digital world has an impact on the physical world -- on our collective health, on our democracies, on the ways we think and interact with each other, on how we process and trust information."

Harry and Meghan and their 15-month-old son Archie are currently living in Los Angeles, having moved there earlier this year from the U.K. when they stepped back as senior members of the royal family.

Harry described the concerns he has as a dad on the effects a toxic social media world can have on children, and noted that when it comes to reform, "We do not have the luxury of time."

"If we are susceptible to the coercive forces in digital spaces, then we have to ask ourselves -- what does this mean for our children?," he wrote. "As a father, this is especially concerning to me."

"We all need a better online experience," he wrote. "We’ve spoken with leaders across the racial justice movement, experts in humane tech, and advocates of mental health. And the collective opinion is abundantly clear: We do not have the luxury of time."

Harry and Meghan have been working on the issue of reforming social media for some time, having visited Stanford University earlier this year for a discussion on the topic, ABC News understands.

Making social media platforms a safer, less divisive environment will be a major new focus of the couple’s work and will be a key part of their charity, Archewell, which will be aimed at creating compassionate, empathetic and strong communities, both offline and online.

Harry and Meghan reached nearly 11 million followers on their Sussex Royal Instagram in less than a year. The couple stopped using the account at the end of March, when it was decided they would not use their Sussex Royal brand in their new roles as non-working royals.

Harry described his and Meghan's work so far on social media reform as just the "beginning of a movement."

"The internet has enabled us to be joined together. We are now plugged into a vast nervous system that, yes, reflects our good, but too often also magnifies and fuels our bad," he wrote. "We can -- and must -- encourage these platforms to redesign themselves in a more responsible and compassionate way. The world will feel it, and we will all benefit from it."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(BEIRUT, Lebanon) -- In the wake of the massive explosion in Beirut that killed at least 135 and injured around 5,000, officials in the country have been calling for help from the international community to recover from the tragedy, which could also leave some 300,000 homeless, officials said.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud called the Aug. 4 explosion "a national catastrophe" in a tearful interview early Thursday, pleading for assistance. He said the country will need to rely heavily on donations and foreign aid to rebuild. French President Emmanuel Macron traveled to offer support as the country reels from the explosion and at least 100 remain missing.

The exact cause of the blast remains unknown, although authorities said that more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, an industrial compound, was being stored in the warehouse that was the scene of the blast. Footage from the scene appears to show a cloud of smoke forming before the blast, then a fire, before the massive explosion that carried a mushroom cloud well over the city.

"I have never seen this amount of destruction on this scale. This is a national catastrophe. This is a disaster for Lebanon. We don't know how we will recover. We don't know," Abboud told Sky News. "We could barely survive before and now we have this. We have to be strong."

He urged residents to hold themselves together and "be brave" as crowds took to the streets with brooms, garbage bins and other tools to help rid the city of the tons of glass, shrapnel and debris left behind by the blast.

The explosion leveled homes and buildings and was captured on gut-wrenching video. Humanitarian officials said the incident could have a crippling effect on the city's already struggling economy, citing the ongoing financial crisis, political tensions and the COVID-19 pandemic there.

"The country’s weak health system and current political crisis have left families with no means to protect themselves against a pandemic," a spokesperson for Save the Children said, pleading for the public to help with donations. "With hospitals completely overwhelmed, our teams stand ready to support relief efforts wherever possible. Your urgent support is needed today."

Hospitals were already struggling to keep with demand due to the virus, but now they're battling with a sudden influx of patients from the blast on top of that, humanitarian officials said.

Lebanon is also home to the largest number of Syrian refugees per capita in the world with refugees now accounting for about 30% of the country's population, according to Mercy Corps, which is now taking up donations for aid.

More than a dozen Lebanese charities have begun receiving donations to help with disaster relief as well. Volunteers with the Lebanese Red Cross were on the scene helping with victims Thursday along with the Lebanese Food Bank, which are both taking donations.

One of the fastest ways to help is to donate to international organizations with existing infrastructures in Lebanon, like Humanity & Inclusion, UNICEF and Save the Children, as rescue workers continue to search for survivors.

Humanity & Inclusion, which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its work to ban landmines, said it has been doing humanitarian work in Lebanon since 1992. Most recently, it was providing aid to Syrian refugees, especially the elderly and those with disabilities and/or serious illnesses.

"Our 100-person team in Lebanon, including physical therapists, psycho-social, and livelihood experts, are leading this critical response. Post-surgical physical therapy, in particular, will be a vital component of our actions," Humanity & Inclusion said in a statement on its website. "Your gift, whatever the amount, can help provide desperately-needed care."

Similarly, UNICEF's Lebanon arm said it's been working to mobilize youth to help clean up those neighborhoods with the most damage. The organization is also working with authorities on the ground to respond to the needs of health and other front-line workers. The organization said some staff members had lost loved ones in the explosion.

"Yesterday’s catastrophe in Beirut adds to what has already been a terrible crisis for the people of Lebanon compounded by an economic collapse and a surge in COVID-19 cases," UNICEF said in a statement. "Our hearts are with children and families who have been impacted, especially those who lost their loved ones. We wish a speedy recovery to the injured."

The potential humanitarian implications of the explosion are still unclear, but Beriut's governor, Abboud, said that as many as 300,000 people could be left “without homes,” according to local media reports. He estimated that it could cost the country between $3 billion and $5 billion, noting that engineers had yet to conduct an official assessment.

Countries around the world have also pledged support, with France, Germany, Canada, Bangladesh, Israel, Russia, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and Iran offering humanitarian aid, rescue teams, supplies and other resources.

Officials with the World Heath Organization said the organization delivered 20 tons of supplies since the explosion.

Separately, the U.S. government said it plans to send three large military transport plane shipments of food, water and medical supplies, according to the Department of Defense.

America is also sending support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which said it would "continue to monitor the impact of the explosion in close coordination with the U.S. Embassy and USAID’s Mission in Beirut, Lebanese authorities, and our humanitarian partners on the ground." That includes support for local university hospitals.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(PARIS and LONDON) -- An explosion at a warehouse stocked with 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in the Beirut port changed the face of a city almost instantly.

The exact cause of the Beirut blast is still under investigation, but the catastrophic effects of ammonium nitrate were there for all to see: A massive explosion causing shock waves throughout the city and a mushroom cloud of smoke billowing high into the sky.

So far, at least 137 are confirmed dead, including one American, and over 5.000 were injured in the blast, according to the Lebanese authorities.

But, according to experts, ammonium nitrate is not itself classified as dangerous, and requires a lot of energy to ignite.

"[Ammonium nitrate] is a great fertilizer for growing plants, but it's also wonderful as an explosive," Jimmy Oxley, a chemistry professor at the University of Rhode Island, told ABC News. "200 factories make ammonium nitrate around the world… They are mining all over."

Ammonium nitrate was involved in the 1947 Texas City disaster, one of the largest industrial explosions in history.

But the chemical has a more nefarious use -- as an explosive. The chemical compound was used to make explosives for the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people 25 years ago. The fertilizer and fuel bomb used then contained just over two tons of ammonium nitrate to carry out the deadliest domestic terror attack on U.S. soil. The warehouse in Beirut is believed to have carried more than 1,000 times that amount.

Yet, Oxley, who carried out research into the chemical compound, said that while the ammonium nitrate has been used as an explosive, the compound cannot be solely responsible for the explosion.

"The product itself is not classified as dangerous," said Gilles Choquet, president of AIS service, a training organization in risk prevention in explosive environments. "It is the storage of this product that could generate risks, with the rise in temperatures, which will be all the greater when there is so much product."

Port officials have been placed on house arrest pending the results of the investigation on the suspected gross negligence of leaving the over 2,500 tons in the port's warehouse for six years, Lebanon President Michel Aoun announced.

The ammonium nitrate appears to have been confiscated from a commercial cargo ship abandoned in Beirut in 2013, allegedly with a Russian owner, and then confiscated by the Lebanese authorities a year later; it's origins linked to former Soviet republic, Georgia.

"I'm not surprised it's coming from Georgia or Russia," Oxley said. "Cheap natural gas [is] there, and natural gas is one of the precursors for making ammonium nitrate."

The chemical, however, requires a lot of energy to become explosive, and is not, in itself, highly combustible.

"What is certain is that when this product is on its own, it cannot explode," Choquet said. At the moment, it is "hard to say the exact cause for the explosion," he said, and the authorities may never find one.

The earliest recorded accident involving ammonium nitrate occurred in Oppau in Germany in 1921.

"The man was blasting it with dynamite," said Oxley about the Oppau explosion. "He got away with that several times. One day he decided to do a bunch of dynamite at once, 600 people died and he was one of them. He put a shock into the ammonium nitrate ... in [Beirut's] situation, if there was a pre-shock into the ammonium nitrate, that would explain what was going on."

According to Oxley, this pre-shock could have been the fireworks; speculated as the cause early on.

"If they got on fire and started a large conflagration, it could come from that," Oxley said. "Ammonium nitrate mixed with fuel will just sit there and look at you ... [to become explosive] it has to have a large input of energy, either from a large fire or a shock wave."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(TOWNSVILLE, Australia) -- The Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) in the Great Barrier Reef, Townsville, Australia, welcomed its first divers to its newest installation earlier this week.

Jason deCaires Taylor. a British sculptor, is the artist behind the underwater exhibit called Coral Greenhouse. The Coral Greenhouse is located in the heart of the Greater Barrier Reef Marine Park at John Brewer Reef and is the largest MOUA installation, featuring the first underwater building.

"Coral Greenhouse" was supposed to open in April 2020, but was postponed "to allow the tourism industry time to deal with the challenges being faced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic," the museum wrote on its Instagram. An underwater ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the opening occasion on Aug. 2.

The Museum of Underwater Art has officially opened to visitors, with tours starting tomorrow. It's the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere and operators hope it will attract more tourists to the region. Report on 7NEWS at 6pm. #7NEWS

— 7NEWS Townsville (@7NewsTownsville) July 31, 2020

As the first of museum of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, MOUA's goal is to "highlight reef conservation, restoration and education on a global scale," according to its web site. "Coral Greenhouse" is one of two installations -- the other is "Ocean Siren," the inaugural sculpture installed alongside North Queensland’s Strand Jetty in Townsville. It can be seen from land.

There are two additional locations planned at Magnetic and Palm Islands. They are expected to be complete in 2021.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Haytham El Achkar/Getty ImagesBy GUY DAVIES and IBTISSEM GUENFOUD, ABC News

(LONDON) -- The loved ones of the missing gathered around the site of the explosion in Beirut on Thursday, as residents of the city continued to clear debris from the streets two days after the devastating blast.

The Lebanese Health Minister said at least 137 were killed in the explosion, with 5,000 people injured and at least 100 still missing. One American has been confirmed as being among the dead, and several others injured, a U.S State Department spokesperson told ABC News.

President Michel Aouon has declared a two-week state of emergency, three days of mourning and has vowed that those responsible for the blast, which sent shockwaves through the entire city and beyond, would face justice.

Up to 300,000 people have been rendered homeless, Beirut's governor said Wednesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron landed in Beirut Thursday morning, promising "unconditional aid and support for the population," as international assistance arrived in the stricken city.

"We will organize things so that aid can go on the ground, can reach the Lebanese women and men," he told reporters soon after landing. "This is what we need. We will be there. And we won't let go."

He also spoke of the need for significant reforms to Lebanese society, saying, "if these reforms are not made, Lebanon will continue to sink." Another French plane will soon arrive with investigative resources and search teams, he said, as officials piece together exactly what happened.

A plane donated by the U.A.E. carrying 20 tonnes of World Health Organization supplies arrived from Dubai Wednesday night, which will help cover thousands of trauma and surgical interventions, the WHO said.

"The blast left three hospitals in Beirut non-functional & two hospitals partially damaged, leaving many facilities overwhelmed with a critical gap in hospital bed capacity," the WHO posted on Twitter. "Patients are being transferred to hospitals across the country, as far as south Saida & north Tripoli."

The U.S. is now also providing "immediate humanitarian assistance" to the Lebanese government, a spokesperson for the U.S. Agency for International Development said. Other countries have begun setting up field hospitals in the city.

The exact cause of the blast remains unknown, although authorities said that more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, an industrial compound, was being stored in the warehouse that was the scene of the blast. Footage from the scene appears to show a cloud of smoke forming before the blast, then a fire, before the massive explosion that carried a mushroom cloud well over the city.

Young people took to the streets to help sweep up debris on Wednesday, as search and rescue teams continue to sift through the rubble for the missing.

Lebanon is currently in a place of extreme financial difficulty, and its health service is already stretched by the coronavirus pandemic. Roy Badaro, a Lebanese economist, told ABC News that "the repair of the country is beyond the means of Lebanese people." The country has a population of six million, including 1.5 million Syrian refugees, according to UNICEF.

Samah Hadid, a resident of Beirut who lives just a mile away from the blast site, told ABC News that "it was a very terrifying few minutes."

“Whilst people in Beirut are used to, unfortunately, these sorts of incidents of terrorism [and] war, what happened yesterday was still very much devastating and something on another level," she said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(BEIRUT) Dr. Seema Jilani was tending to a wounded teenage girl, still trying to register what had happened Tuesday after a massive explosion rocked Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut when her husband told her on the phone that she needed to get home to help her daughter.

Jilani, a pediatrician who has also been trained to work in combat zones, stabilized the teenager and then ran a block-and-a-half to her apartment complex, passing over shattered glass from windows and other wounded people. When she arrived, she found her 4-year-old daughter, Eman, injured and wrapped in a towel.

As Jilani tried comforting Eman with lullabies, she said she realized her daughter’s wounds were more serious than she had initially thought. With her husband’s help, she was able to find an ambulance on the street. She carried Eman to the ambulance, but there was chaos inside -- other people who’d been injured by the blast had packed the ambulance.

In that moment, Jilani found herself caught between fulfilling her duties as a doctor and those as a parent.

“I’m thinking … I should be stabilizing these patients, I should be working on them,” Jilani said. “But who’s going to hold my daughter if I’m doing that?”

Jilani said she tried positioning herself in a way that hid her daughter from “seeing complete carnage.”

“I’m telling Eman … ‘Look at me, honey. Just look at momma. I just want you to look straight into my eyes and we’re going to think about our favorite place, the beach. And if you feel cold, if you feel any liquid on your legs, then we’re going to think about that like the beach, because we love the beach.’ And so, obviously, I’m talking about blood that’s coming out of her legs,” she said.

At least 135 people have died and over 5,000 have been injured from Tuesday’s blast, which leveled buildings throughout the city and was felt nearly 150 miles away in Cyprus. Officials believe the cause was over 2,700 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive substance used in fertilizer, that had been stored at a warehouse in the city’s port.

Before the blast, at around 6 p.m. Tuesday, white smoke could be seen billowing into the air from the warehouse. It was soon followed by short, firecracker-like bursts of fire. Then, after the blast sent a mushroom cloud into the air, pink smoke emanated from the warehouse.

Samah Hadid, who lives less than a mile away from the blast site, said the blast took the city by surprise.

“Whilst people in Beirut are used to, unfortunately, these sorts of incidents of terrorism [and] war, what happened yesterday was still very much devastating and something on another level,” she said.

Hadid said she was in her apartment when the blast occurred and that she felt the building shake from it.

“It was a very terrifying few minutes -- very blurry,” she said. “But what I can recall is that I was near the window and saw clouds of pink smoke engulf the sky, and then a huge shake. So I ran immediately to take cover in the one corner of my apartment that is protected. I fell to the ground and within minutes, the whole place felt like it was going to collapse. It was almost as if there was an earthquake and a bomb exploded all at once.”

Hadid said the blast had torn through her apartment, destroying most of the furniture and shattering the windows. Concerned the building would collapse, she left.

“I was terrified,” she said.

Injured neighbors had made their way out before her.

“Seeing the blood on the staircase and seeing how injured my neighbors were as well, it was quite distressing. But we needed to get out of there,” she said.

Once on the street, she said nearby buildings and houses had also been “turned to rubble.”

“And people out in the streets with injuries, screaming and shouting, completely in distress,” she continued. “And I, myself, was just confused about what just happened.”

Nabih Bulos, a foreign reporter for The Los Angeles Times, was also in Beirut during the explosion. He told ABC News that after he saw smoke in the distance, he got on his motorcycle to get a better view.

“I headed toward the port itself on the motorcycle and I guess 15 minutes later, that’s when the big one hit,” Bulos said. “And honestly, I don’t remember what happened next, as far as I can tell. It seems from what my friends have told me is that, I mean the shockwave of the second much larger blast must have been then, and I think it threw me off my motorcycle.”

Although Bulos was left dazed and injured from the blast, he believes it was his motorcycle helmet that saved his life.

“I’m looking at my helmet now; it’s quite mashed up. … I look at my face and the visor was the one that had basically borne the brunt of the debris. I mean, my face is relatively unscathed,” he said.

As evening turned to night, Jilani had arrived at a hospital where her daughter was receiving care. She said volunteers were coming to help hospital staff, many of whom were overwhelmed by the surge of patients and “clearly trying to get in touch with their own family members.”

“It was an immense display of courage and solidarity,” Jilani said. “But it was also exactly like a war zone, exactly the things you’d expect: stepping over bodies, trying to shield my daughter from seeing things that I would not want any 4-year-old to see. … I remember coddling her to make sure her legs didn’t hit a surgeon who was trying to reattach a finger and moving through a maze of people, which, all of the blood is mixing. Clearly, people are mixing fluids and gloves and it is complete chaos.”

She said there was no space for them to sit, and people were laying on the ground.

“It’s literally a sea and a maze of limbs that we’re trying to get through of people, and then realizing, even though you’re worried about your kid, thank God she’s not the one next door that they’re doing CPR on,” she said.

Marco Baldan, a surgeon with the Red Cross, spoke about the tragic human toll of the blast, saying there was “everything from bodies completely disintegrated -- shattered -- to individuals, victims completely crushed by buildings, by vehicles, to victims burned by the heat of the explosion.”

He said it’s “heartbreaking” to see what Lebanon is going through. The country had already been experiencing a financial crisis when the coronavirus pandemic hit, affecting Beirut especially.

“Before this blast, we had a health system that was struggling to manage with the limited amount of drugs, medicines, dressing material, gloves -- all what doctors and nurses need to do their daily work,” Baldan said. “Imagine in the middle of this, you have a sudden event like this explosion that brings in two, three hours 4,000 victims to the nearest hospitals that were already struggling for lack of supplies. So you have a lot of doctors willing to do and lacking the means to do.”

Both Jilani and Hadid spoke to the threat the country now faces in the wake of the explosion.

Jilani said that in the past few months, groceries and other household items had already gone up in price.

“The threat of hunger is real,” she said. “My understanding is a large area, a large reservoir of wheat was also in the explosion, and so that just does not bode well for this country.”

Hadid said the explosion “really exacerbated -- just multiplied -- the suffering in Lebanon.”

“We’re facing a pandemic in COVID, our health system is completely overstretched and underfunded. Our economic situation is on the brink of collapse. So, people were already in a horrible and devastating position before this explosion, and now we’re faced with this tragedy,” Hadid said. “It really has, I think, made people even more desperate. … You hear people say here that we’re cursed -- Lebanese people, we’re cursed -- and that really just reflects on how distressing the situation is here.”

There are now up to 300,000 people believed to be homeless after the blast. As those throughout the city continue to look for survivors, the death toll is expected to rise.

The explosion is now under investigation and Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has vowed justice, saying “those responsible will pay the price.” Port officials have been placed on house arrest pending the results of the investigation, Lebanon President Michel Aoun announced. Officials have already found that the ammonium nitrate had been confiscated from a freighter, but seemingly never secured.

“The main feeling here is sheer rage,” Bulos said. “The fact is this explosion was a function of negligence, or at least people see it as such. … The materials that were stored in the port had been there since 2013. This, despite repeated requests to move them elsewhere, just because it’s not good to have such a dangerous cargo in the port, especially in the middle of the city.”

Both Jilani and her daughter were discharged from the hospital Wednesday morning. When asked what she’d tell her daughter about the explosion, she suggested she’d offer some advice.

“Many people will say what Mr. Rogers always said is look for the helpers, and that’s certainly what you would tell a child,” she said. “But I’m also going to tell her to be one of the helpers, and as you grow to be an adult, your job is going to change from looking for helpers to becoming those people so that when there’s a kid out there that is looking for help … he or she can look to you.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


mustafagull/iStockBy ERIC NOLL and HALEY YAMADA, ABC News

(BEIRUT) -- Surrounded by debris after a devastating explosion in Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut, May Abboud Melki sat and played “Auld Lang Syne” for her family on a piano in her home.

Meliki’s song was seen by some as a sign of hope and resilience amid the rubble. Her granddaughter, May-Lee Meliki, described the moment as “beauty from ashes,” and said her grandmother was “pushing through her pain.”

May-Lee Meliki shared the now viral moment on Instagram, where many people have left comments in support of those in Lebanon.

The moment was captured less than a day after over 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive substance, caused a blast that killed at least 135 people and injured more than 5,000 others, according to the latest figures released by Lebanon Health Minister Hamad Hassan.

At least one U.S. citizen was killed in the explosion, and several others have been injured, a U.S. State Department spokesperson told ABC News.

While many others still remain missing, the enormous explosion, which leveled a portion of the city, has left 300,000 people homeless, said Beirut’s Gov. Marwan Abboud.

Authorities are currently investigating the explosion, saying that the exact cause of the blast still remains unknown.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun announced that an unspecified number of people who managed the warehouse where the ammonium nitrate was stored will be put under house arrest.

During a virtual appearance at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that there is still information coming in about the explosion, but that "most believe it was an accident, as reported."

The Lebanese Red Cross has made a series of urgent appeals for blood donations after they sent 75 ambulances and 375 paramedics to the scene. Search and rescue teams continued to look for missing people around the site on Wednesday, ABC News reported.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Daniel Carde/Getty ImagesBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News

(LONDON) -- The death toll in Tuesday's massive explosion in a Beirut warehouse has climbed past 100 as search and rescue efforts continue in the Lebanese capital.

At least 135 people are dead and more than 5,000 were injured in the blast, according to the latest figures released by Lebanon Health Minister Hamad Hassan.

Many others are still missing, Hassan said.

At least one U.S. citizen was killed in the explosion, and several others have been injured, a U.S. State Department spokesperson told ABC News.

The enormous explosion, which flattened a portion of the city, has left up to 300,000 people homeless, Beirut's governor said.

The city's hospitals reached capacity soon after the explosion, forcing many of the wounded to travel as far as Tripoli, 50 miles north, to receive treatment. At least three hospitals were damaged by the blast.

Three days of mourning have been declared.

The exact cause of the blast remains unknown, although authorities said that more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, an industrial compound, was being stored in the warehouse that was the scene of the blast. During a virtual appearance at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that there is still information coming in about the explosion, but that "most believe it was an accident, as reported."

After an emergency cabinet meeting, Lebanon's President Michel Aoun announced that an unspecified number of people who managed the ammonium nitrate storage at the warehouse linked to the explosion are to be put under house arrest. He also announced that four government field hospitals will be set up, and an official report into the explosion will be delivered to the cabinet within the next five days.

Ammonium nitrate is the same fertilizer that was used to make explosives for the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people 25 years ago.

The ammonium nitrate appears to have been confiscated from a commercial cargo ship abandoned in Beirut in 2013 and then confiscated by the Lebanese authorities a year later.

According to lawyers who said they represented its crew, the ship, the Rhosus, was forced to dock due to technical issues in autumn 2013 and then forbidden to sail by the Lebanese authorities after they found violations during an inspection.

In a notice describing the legal dispute published on Ship Arrested, the lawyers wrote the ammonium was offloaded by Beirut's port authorities and placed in warehouses to await auctioning or proper disposal.

Six years later, the confiscated ammonium nitrate had not been moved from the port's warehouses.

The Lebanese Red Cross has made a series of urgent appeals for blood donations after they sent 75 ambulances and 375 paramedics to the scene. Search and rescue teams continued to look for missing people around the site on Wednesday.

A firefighter at the port told ABC News that a team of 10 emergency responders who first responded to a fire at the scene are missing after potentially being caught in the explosion.

Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF's representative in Lebanon, said she was "concerned that children are among the casualties and we are aware that those who survived are traumatized and under shock."

Drone footage from the port shows much of the area flattened by the blast, the effects of which were felt across the entire city. The United States Geological Survey reported that the explosion registered a 3.3 magnitude, with reports suggesting it was heard as far away as Cyprus, 150 miles away into the Mediterranean.

Journalists at the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star and the BBC offices in Beirut documented the moments after the explosion hit, showing significant damage to their offices.

Roy Badaro, a Lebanese economist, told ABC News he expected an exodus of up to 1 million people in the aftermath of the explosion.

"It's beyond imagination, the repair of the country is beyond the means of Lebanese people," he said. "All the people that contribute to the economy will leave ... People nowadays they don't have the money to repair, they don't have the hope, they lost hope in their country. It's a collective failure. It's the failure of the whole country, not only in economic terms."

Estimating the direct damage to "one of the biggest ports in the eastern Mediterranean to be around $3 billion, he said the consequences will play out on the poorest in Lebanon.

"We'll be using small ports, it will increase the prices, it will hurt the poor," he said.

The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, announced he would be visiting the stricken country on Thursday.

"I will go to Beirut tomorrow to meet the Lebanese people to bring them the message of fraternity and solidarity from the French," he posted on Twitter. "We will take stock of the situation with the political authorities."

The U.K. announced on Wednesday a package of emergency aid for Lebanon, which includes immediately deploying search and rescue support and offering up to 5 million pounds to assist people made homeless by the disaster.

President Donald Trump said, "Our prayers go out to all the victims and their families. The United States stands ready to assist Lebanon."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab to express his condolences and offer assistance.

Esper said Wednesday that the U.S. is "positioning ourselves to provide them whatever assistance we can: humanitarian aid, medical supplies, you name it, to assist the people of Lebanon.”

The Lebanese government has not yet made a specific request to the U.S. government for help, so the U.S. has not deployed any funds or personnel just yet, according to a National Security Council official.

Lebanon is currently in a position of severe financial difficulty, with the strain on the country's healthcare system already exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

ABC News' Leena Saidi, Nasser Atta, Conor Finnegan, Luis Martinez, Patrick Reevell and Matt Seyler contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Xinhua/Liu Jie via Getty ImagesBy MIKE LEVINE, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The president's response to COVID-19 has been criticized since the first cases began appearing in the United States in late January. Here’s a look at how his response has evolved since then.

Warning that tensions with China have reached "unprecedented" levels, China’s ambassador to the United States on Tuesday chastised President Donald Trump’s use of the phrase "China virus" and fiercely disputed accusations that the Chinese government withheld potentially life-saving information about COVID-19 in the earliest days of the pandemic.

"We have to base ourselves on real facts, and … the timeline is very clear," Ambassador Cui Tiankai said. "Everybody knew [early on] this is very dangerous."

In late December 2019, Chinese authorities identified "a few cases" of "pneumonia of unknown cause" in the Wuhan province, and within days -- on Jan. 3 -- the World Health Organization was notified, according to Tiankai. The next day, Chinese authorities "had their first communication" with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the new virus, but at that time "nobody in the world knew anything about" it, he said.

A week later, when there were still only "single-digit number of cases here in the United States," the Chinese government publicly released the genetic makeup of the virus, according to Tiankai, speaking during an online session of the annual Aspen Security Forum.

"As soon as we discovered something, we shared it with the international community. This is a fact," he insisted. "Everything was done very quickly."

But Trump and some of the nation’s top disease experts have blamed the Chinese government for initially hiding the most significant component of COVID-19: that it’s easily spread among humans.

Even as late as mid-January, "We were still hearing from the Chinese that it wasn't efficiently spread from human to human," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Disease, recently told ABC News. "[But] then as the weeks went by, it became very clear … that there really would be trouble."

Trump has repeatedly called COVID-19 the "China virus" or "Chinese flu," insisting the Chinese government is "fully responsible for concealing the virus and unleashing it upon the world," as he put it last month.

During Tuesday’s online forum, however, Tiankai denounced such rhetoric.

"It's certainly wrong to have such stigma," he said. "The virus, as defined by the World Health Organization, is COVID-19. And the WHO has ruled that the name of any such virus should not be linked with any particular place, people, or ethnic group. … This is an international rule I think all of us should follow."

Tiankai also disputed that Chinese authorities failed to acknowledge the human-to-human transmission quickly enough.

Understanding the mode of transmission was "extremely important for our response to the virus, so that’s why we sent our national experts to Wuhan to determine whether this is transmitted among human beings," he said. "And once they determined that this is transmitted among human beings, we had the Wuhan lockdown," sealing off about 12 million people from the rest of China and the world.

"So everybody knew this is very dangerous," he insisted.

The Wuhan lockdown was announced on Jan. 23. Since then, nearly 19 million people have been infected around the world and hundreds of thousands have died, including more than 150,000 inside the United States alone.

Speaking more broadly about U.S.-China relations, Tiankai criticized America for what he called its "obsession with global dominance," warning that current tensions are "unprecedented," at least since diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored in the early 1970s.

"China certainly has no intention to seek global dominance," he claimed. "But people here in this country talk about this so often, it seems to be there is such an obsession with it."

Tiankai offered this warning: "We are at a very critical moment for our relations. … So the choices we are making today will really shape not only relations between our two great countries but also the future of the world."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


NataliaCatalina/iStockBy ZOE MAGEE, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, scored an at least temporary victory Wednesday in her lawsuit against a U.K.-based tabloid.

A British judge ruled that Meghan can, for now, keep the names of five friends secret while she brings a copyright infringement lawsuit against Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Mail on Sunday, the Sunday edition of the Daily Mail.

"The Duchess felt it was necessary to take this step to try and protect her friends -- as any of us would -- and we're glad this was clear," a spokesperson for Meghan and her husband Prince Harry told ABC News in reaction to the judge's ruling. "We are happy that the Judge has agreed to protect these five individuals."

Meghan and Harry publicly announced the lawsuit against Associated Newspapers last October.

While no trial date has been set, there have been two preliminary hearings in the lawsuit so far.

Here is what to know about the lawsuit, and what is expected to happen next:

Why is the Duchess of Sussex suing Associated Newspapers?

Meghan is suing Associated Newspapers, the parent company of The Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, over five articles published in February 2019 that included excerpts from a private letter she sent to her now estranged father, Thomas Markle. The duchess is seeking damages from the newspaper for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.

The letter, which is the focal point of the court case, describes the break down in relations between father and daughter.

In the run up to the 2018 royal wedding, Thomas Markle had been the subject of immense tabloid interest, which reached a pinnacle when the Daily Mail revealed just days before the wedding that, in an attempt to revamp his image, Thomas Markle had staged paparazzi photos of himself preparing for his daughter's big day.

Markle was then hospitalized and had to undergo surgery, which prevented him from traveling to his daughter's wedding.

Relations between the two became strained and Thomas Markle gave several interviews to the media which we now know greatly upset his daughter. The letter lays out Meghan's take on these events.

According to the duchess' legal team, the Mail on Sunday breached copyright by publishing the private letter as it legally belongs to the duchess, the author of the letter.

Her lawyers also argue that the Mail on Sunday breached privacy and data protection laws and that they cherry-picked portions of the letter to manipulate readers.

The letter was published by the Mail on Sunday in February 2019. In it, the duchess describes her sadness at the deterioration of her relationship with her father, asks why he spoke to the media and says he has broken her heart "into a million pieces."

Thomas Markle claims he agreed to the letter being published to set the record straight after a friend of the duchess mentioned the letter in an interview with People magazine.

Five friends, described as "an essential part of Meghan's inner circle," spoke anonymously to People, according to the magazine, saying they wanted to "stand up against the global bullying we are seeing and speak the truth about our friend."

They added, "Meg has silently sat back and endured the lies and untruths ... It's wrong to put anyone under this level of emotional trauma, let alone when they're pregnant."

One of these five friends referenced the letter Meghan had written to her father, saying, "After the wedding she wrote him a letter. She's like, 'Dad, I'm so heartbroken. I love you. I have one father. Please stop victimizing me through the media so we can repair our relationship.'"

Thomas Markle in turn said he felt compelled to publish the letter to defend his reputation -- asserting it was not the conciliatory missive described by this friend in People.

The lawsuit must determine whether the Mail on Sunday infringed Duchess Meghan's rights when it published the letter.

Prince Harry announces lawsuit blasting 'disturbing pattern' by British tabloid media

Prince Harry announced the lawsuit in a statement criticizing the media during his tour of southern Africa in October 2019.

He wrote, "My wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences -- a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son."

"This particular legal action hinges on one incident in a long and disturbing pattern of behavior by British tabloid media," he added. "The contents of a private letter were published unlawfully in an intentionally destructive manner to manipulate you, the reader, and further the divisive agenda of the media group in question. In addition to their unlawful publication of this private document, they purposely misled you by strategically omitting select paragraphs, specific sentences, and even singular words to mask the lies they had perpetuated for over a year."

"My deepest fear is history repeating itself. I've seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person," wrote Harry, whose mother, Princess Diana, died in a paparazzi-involved car crash in 1997. "I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."

After the statement was released to the public, his law firm, Schillings, laid out their case.

"We have initiated legal proceedings against the Mail on Sunday, and its parent company Associated Newspapers, over the intrusive and unlawful publication of a private letter written by the Duchess of Sussex, which is part of a campaign by this media group to publish false and deliberately derogatory stories about her, as well as her husband," the law firm wrote. "Given the refusal of Associated Newspapers to resolve this issue satisfactorily, we have issued proceedings to redress this breach of privacy, infringement of copyright and the aforementioned media agenda."

What has happened so far?

While the trial date has not yet been set there have been two pretrial hearings.

The first hearing, known as a strike-out hearing, was on April 23 and was held to determine which of the duchess' claims could proceed to a trial against Associated Newspapers. In this hearing, lawyers for the Mail on Sunday successfully argued that certain parts of the duchess' claims should be removed.

Justice Mark Warby -- the judge who is presiding over the case -- agreed to take out complaints that the paper acted dishonestly, deliberately stirred up conflict between the duchess and her father, and pursued an agenda of publishing offensive or intrusive articles about the duchess.

"I do not consider the allegations in question go to the 'heart' of the case, which at its core concerns the publication of five articles disclosing the words of, and information drawn from, the letter written by the claimant to her father in August in 2018," he said.

These five articles were published in the Mail on Sunday in February 2019 and reproduced parts of her handwritten letter she sent to her father.

Having lost on those claims, the duchess agreed to pay Associated Newspapers' legal fees of approximately $87,000.

Meghan wins right to protect identity of her friends

The second hearing was on July 29 and in it the Duchess' legal team called for Warby to legally block Associated Newspapers from publishing the identity of the five friends who gave interviews to People magazine. Their names were revealed to the newspaper in a confidential court document attached to the first hearing and Meghan was worried the identity of her friends would be made public.

In a witness statement sent to the court before the hearing, the duchess argued, "Associated Newspapers, the owner of The Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, is threatening to publish the names of five women -- five private citizens -- who made a choice on their own to speak anonymously with a U.S. media outlet more than a year ago, to defend me from the bullying behavior of Britain's tabloid media."

"These five women are not on trial, and nor am I. The publisher of the Mail on Sunday is the one on trial. It is this publisher that acted unlawfully and is attempting to evade accountability; to create a circus and distract from the point of this case --that the Mail on Sunday unlawfully published my private letter," she said.

Her lawyers argued that the friends have a double right to anonymity, firstly as confidential journalistic sources and secondly under their own privacy rights.

Lawyers for Associated Newspapers argued that the identities should be made public, calling them "important potential witnesses on a key issue."

"Reporting these matters without referring to names would be a heavy curtailment of the media's and the defendant's entitlement to report this case and the public's right to know about it," said Antony White, the lawyer representing the paper. "No friend's oral evidence could be fully and properly reported because full reporting might identify her, especially as there has already been media speculation as to their identities."

High Court Judge Mark Warby said Wednesday, "I have concluded that, for the time being at least, the court should grant the claimant the order that she seeks, protecting the anonymity of friends who defended Meghan in the pages of a U.S. magazine."

Judge Warby also added though that concerns about confidentiality "may fade or even evaporate if and when there is a trial at which one or more of the sources gives evidence."

Meghan's legal team is treating the five women as potential witnesses, so they may be named at trial.

Associated Newspapers declined to comment on the judge's ruling.

What's next?

A trial date has yet to be set, and according to a source close to the duchess, there are several procedural steps that have to be fulfilled first, including a Case Management Conference, the disclosure of documents and the exchange of witness statements.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(BEIRUT, Lebanon) -- More than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored in the Beirut warehouse that was the scene of Tuesday's deadly explosion that killed dozens of people in the Lebanese capital, authorities say.

At least 70 people are dead and more than 3,500 injured following the massive explosion that rocked the city Tuesday evening, according to the Lebanese health minister. Footage from the ground showed significant damage and plumes of smoke rising above the city.

Two explosions occurred in Beirut's port, according to the Agence France-Presse. Firefighters were seen battling flames at a warehouse at the scene of the blast, officials said.

An estimated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, an explosive compound, was stored in the warehouse, according to Lebanon Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

According to the office of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Diab said that it is unacceptable that the compound was stored there for six years without precautionary safety measures in place.

Following a meeting with Lebanon's Supreme Defense Council, Diab said he will not be satisfied until someone is held accountable for the explosion.

After the meeting, Aoun declared Beirut a disaster zone and announced a two-week state of emergency. The military will have the authority to maintain security, Aoun said, according to a tweet from his office.

The Lebanese health minister originally said at least 50 people were killed and 2,700 were injured in the explosion, then raised the numbers to 70 dead and more than 3,500 injured.

The U.S. embassy in Beirut has issued a security alert warning Americans to "stay indoors and wear masks if available" because "there are reports of toxic gases released in the explosion."

The German Foreign Office said on social media that German embassy employees are among the injured.

The United States Geological Survey reports that the explosion registered a magnitude of 3.3. The blast itself was heard up to 25 miles south of the city, and many streets in Beirut are now paved with broken glass.

In an address to the nation, Diab said that the disaster will not pass "without accountability," and those responsible "will pay the price."

The "truth" about the six-year-old warehouse "will be revealed," he added.

Ghada Alsharif, a reporter from the Daily Star, one of Lebanon's most prominent news outlets, posted a video on social media showing significant damage within the newspaper's office building. Firefighters were seen battling flames at the scene of the blast.

The Lebanese Red Cross have dispatched 30 teams to the scene and are making an urgent call for blood donations.

Other eyewitnesses said there were multiple fires burning and that windows of apartment buildings were shattered in a large radius around the blast site. Video from the ground in Beirut shows cars crushed by rubble, injured people walking through debris and extensive damage to nearby buildings.

Hospitals in Beirut are so overwhelmed that some have been turning the injured away, with some of the injured now driving to Tripoli, 50 miles north, to receive treatment.

Alyssa Farah, the White House director of Strategic Communications, tweeted that President Donald Trump has been briefed on the explosion.

"Praying for the safety of the people of Lebanon," she posted on Twitter. "The President has been briefed. We continue to monitor the situation closely."

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said in a statement that the U.S. has "no information about the cause of the explosion." The department is working with local authorities to determine if any U.S. citizens were affected, the spokesperson added.

Dorothy Shea, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, said she witnessed the explosion firsthand. In a tweet, she said, "Having witnessed the horrific explosions at the Port this evening, our heartfelt sympathies go out to the victims and their families. We mourn each loss from this terrible tragedy alongside the Lebanese people."

The blast comes at a time of heightened tension between the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah, which makes up part of the Lebanese government, and neighboring Israel. An Israeli military official told ABC News they had no comment on the blast.

Lebanon is also in a position of severe financial difficulty which has exacerbated sectarian tensions within the country in recent months.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Australian Army soldiers from the Royal Australian Regiment deliver food and supplies to three stranded sailors from the Federated States of Micronesia following a search and rescue mission, to Pikelot Island in the Federated States of Micronesia, Aug. 3, 2020. - (AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE FORCE HANDOUT)By MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Three men have been rescued from a remote, uninhabited island in the Micronesia archipelago after writing "SOS" in the sand, authorities said.

The unnamed sailors had been missing in the western Pacific Ocean for nearly three days when their giant message outlined on the beach of tiny Pikelot Island was spotted from above by searchers in Australian and U.S. aircraft on Sunday. All three men were found in "good condition," according to a press release from the Australian government's Department of Defense.

The men had apparently set out on a 23-foot skiff from Pulawat atoll on July 30, intending to travel about 26 miles to Pulap atoll, but they sailed off course and ran out of fuel.

Search and rescue teams from the U.S. territory of Guam had asked the Australian Defense Force for help on Saturday afternoon. The Royal Australian Navy's ship HMAS Canberra happened to be sailing in the region and agreed to change course to join the U.S. searchers from Guam, according to Australia's Department of Defense.

"The ship’s company responded to the call and had the ship quickly prepared to support the search and rescue," according to the Canberra’s commanding officer, Capt. Terry Morrison, in a statement Monday. "In particular, our embarked MRH90 helicopter from No. 808 Squadron and the four armed reconnaissance helicopters from 1st Aviation Regiment were instrumental in the morning search that helped locate the men and deliver supplies
and confirm their welfare."

The missing men were ultimately located some 118 miles west from where they had started their voyage.

An Australian military helicopter managed to land on Pikelot Island to deliver the men food and water, confirm their identities and check they had no major injuries. A Micronesian patrol vessel has been sent to the island to pick them up, according to Australia's Department of Defense.

"I am proud of the response and professionalism of all on board as we fulfill  our obligation to contribute to the safety of life at sea wherever we are in the world," Morrison said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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